If We Don't Do Better,
Our View: The federal government has to do better in order to save both fish and dams.
We're going to give the federal government the benefit of the doubt in its complete failure to implement its own plan last year to preserve Columbia and Snake River salmon.
Last week, a bevy of conservation groups, consolidated as the organization Save Our Wild Salmon (SOS), released its very first Salmon Plan Report Card. You might think that the grades would be skewed because the groups making up SOS approach the issue with a radical environmental bent. But the grades - five Fs and a D - were based on the very standards set forth by the government. Remember, the Salmon Plan was put forth last year as a way to conserve the Northwest's salmon runs without taking out the four dams on the Lower Snake River in Washington state.
This was the best science the government could come up with, and compared to breaching the dams, it seemed like a cheap price to pay. But in its first year, it is failing miserably.
Still, given the events of Sept. 11 and the desire to ensure the country's security, it's reasonable to assume lawmakers were focusing their fiscal attention elsewhere. Now it's time for the government to fund this plan to its fullest and give it every chance to succeed as a management tool.
Ironically, a coalition of organizations that vehemently opposed dam removal is now pointing at the record salmon and steelhead returns as evidence that dams and salmon can coexist. What they haven't bothered to tell us, though, is that while the great numbers of salmon were returning, the worst migration of young smolts to the sea in recorded history was taking place - high water temperatures in the slack water behind the dams killed young fish in record numbers simply because upstream water in the record drought year wasn't available to flush the young fish downstream.
Dams do kill fish.
But since the dams are due to remain in place for the foreseeable future, it only makes sense that the alternative plan be put in place and followed closely - it has to work, or 10 years from now, we'll be having the same debate again, only we'll be deciding which salmon runs we're willing to forfeit to extinction and which runs we can save if the dams are removed.
The report card produced by SOS is pretty comprehensive. Here's where the government failed:
- Clean water. SOS says the government completed less than 25 percent of the clean water measures required under the Salmon Plan. Grade: F.
- Downstream migration. The government did less than 30 percent of the required work needed to improve dam passage for migrating salmon and steelhead. Grade F.
- Tributary and estuary improvement. Improving the rearing grounds and the estuaries for salmon smolts was deemed vital since dams will remain in place. While some progress was made, SOS says, less than 20 percent of the actions related to habitat improvement were accomplished. Grade: D.
- Hatcheries and harvest. No progress was made. Grade: F.
- Studies and reporting. The Salmon Plan relies heavily on studies and planning for the future. Not even a quarter of these studies were completed. Grade: F.
- Funding. This is the big kicker, since many of the above failures could have been successes if the money was found for funding. Keep in mind that Idaho's federal delegation is still trying to get on the salmon funding list for next year - the lack of money may hamstring the Salmon Plan altogether if our lawmakers aren't more conscientious. Last year, the administration didn't even ask for half the needed money - $900 million - to put the plan into action. Grade: F.
Again, the recession and the events of Sept. 11 have shifted our national focus. It's time, though, to turn our attention to the plan designed to save both salmon and the dams of the Snake and Columbia rivers. If the money can't be found, we're afraid either dams or salmon will be sacrificed.
If last year was an indication, salmon will be the likely casualty.
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